D-Rev’s Low-Cost Jaundice Treatment

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Nine million of the over thirteen million babies that contract jaundice annually live in the developing world. In severe cases of jaundice, it is possible that bilirubin levels will become too high, enter the brain and cause brain damage.

Jaundice can be cured easily. Babies simply need to have their skin exposed to high intensity blue light for two to three days. Phototherapy devices are available that coat a baby in a blue light which breaks up the yellow bilirubin that accumulates in the blood of jaundice patients.

But, the developing world often cannot afford to pay for the phototherapy devices which frequently cost more than $3,000 and require a reliable source of electricity.

Design Revolution (D-Rev), a nonprofit design team developed the solution with a phototherapy device that is priced at $400.

Money was saved in the LED bulbs that can last anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 hours—10 times longer than the CFL bulbs that are usually used. The LEDs have been tested for light distribution and diffusion, and abide to the standards of the American Academy of Pediatricians.

Prior to D-Rev’s phototherapy device, clinics were unable to easily replace CFL bulbs. One clinic ran into this problem and were forced to use three traditional phototherapy devices to treat one baby.

Studies conducted by D-Rev and Stanford found that 95 percent of traditional phototherapy devices used in low-income clinics did not meet the standards of the American Academy of Pediatrics because of maintenance issues.

Around 1 out 3 phototherapy devices had at least one bulb that was not functioning—either missing or burned out. The commonly used blue compact florescent bulb costs $17 per bulb and only lasts four months. The average phototherapy device has six bulbs which adds up to $102 per device initially.  Burned out bulbs frequently cannot be replaced due to lack of necessary discretionary funds.

Another issue is the difficulty in identifying babies suffering from jaundice. Many mothers in low-income areas have their babies at home and are unable to tell that their baby has jaundice until no longer nursing.

Rural clinics often do not have the tools necessary to diagnose jaundice or treat severe cases, which means babies with jaundice often have to travel great distances to reach an urban hospital that possess the necessary equipment.

Moreover, even urban hospitals often lack the necessary tools to treat jaundice. D-Rev’s cheap phototherapy device has been changing that and is increasingly being stocked in hospitals and clinics in the developing world.

– Kasey Beduhn

Source: D-Rev, Popular Mechanics, Engineering for Change, March of Dimes

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